Open Range

English Title: Open Range

Country of Origin: USA

Studio: Touchstone Pictures, Buena Vista Pictures

Director: Kevin Costner

Producer(s): David Valdes, Craig Storper, Jake Eberts, Kevin Costner, Armyan Bernstein

Screenplay: Craig Storper

Cinematographer: James Muro

Art Director: Gary Myers

Editor: Miklos Wright, Michael J Duthie

Runtime: 139 minutes

Starring/Cast: Michael Jeter, Michael Gambon , Robert Duvall , Kevin Costner, Annette Bening

Year: 2003

Volume: American - Hollywood

Boss Spearman, Charley Waite, Mose Harrison, and Button are cattle free-grazers living on the land during the late 1800s. Boss and Charley both have pasts marked by tragedy and violence, and they attempt to teach the younger Mose and Button the tenets of honour, loyalty, and compassion. When they are drawn into a conflict in a nearby town because of an injury to one of their own, they are forced to defend their values and honour against a corrupt Sheriff, a greedy cattle baron, and a group of assassins who have all secured an influence in the town. While attempting to tend to their friend, Boss and Charley also meet Sue Barlow, who gives them brief respite from their troubles, and with whom Charley falls in love.

Open Range is a patient, thoughtful drama that takes its time spelling out its still-relevant characterizations and themes. Costner’s return to the Western genre is a solid and often suspenseful dramatic foray into the dynamics of old-fashioned morals and comeuppance. The film is also about the integrity of a man and his values, common themes of the Western historically, but emphasized in a surprisingly emotional way through the relationship of Charley (Costner) and Sue (Bening). Costner bravely approaches some of the same material (corrupt cattle barons and hired assassins) which made up much of the central focus of Michael Cimino’s Heaven’s Gate (1980), an enormous failure critically and commercially, and the film that not only heavily contributed to the demise of United Artists, but forever changed how Hollywood approached and funded motion pictures (Costner’s choice of material is equally brave considering his earlier directorial effort Dances With Wolves was dubbed ‘Kevin’s Gate’ during production by studio insiders who thought it was veering out of control, and would never turn a profit). An old-fashioned authenticity can be read on the actor’s faces, particularly actress Annette Bening’s character, Sue, who both physically and emotionally represents a chance at a new life for Costner’s character. Costner, Duvall, and particularly Bening have no problem uncovering the wrinkles on their faces and in their hearts. Costner makes a point of always separating the town-folk from Boss and Charley in both cinematic and thematic ways, in their dress, dialogue, and approach to living, and reiterates that cowboys should be remembered differently from other characters from the Old West; during a DVD audio commentary for the film, Costner states that ‘cowboys facilitated things in the West, and that was a dirty, hard job’. The film is equally a testament to Duvall’s now-iconic status in film history; as Charley’s two younger companions admire Boss recapturing some cattle, one of them comments to Charley: ‘The old boss sure can “cowboy”, can’t he?’ Charley replies: ‘Yeah, [they] broke the mould after him’ (a moment which could equally serve as a testament to Duvall himself).  Michael Kamen’s score evokes both a time passed, and equally, a hope for a promising future. At its beginning and as the film nears its conclusion, Costner emphasizes the powerful nature of sound itself, first through thunder, and much later through extremely loud gunshots (whose increased volume on film in fact matches a more realistic feeling of the audio impact of gunshots in real life). Costner’s slow build-up to the film’s final shootout is so emotionally measured and nuanced that, when the shots do start to fire, they repeatedly take the viewer by surprise. Open Range is an uncynical, emotionally and technically accomplished work that deserves higher consideration.


Author of this review: Michael S. Duffy